In a policy dispute with the government, the Labor caucus agreed to oppose the bill that would cancel the age pension supplement for the people who spend more than six weeks overseas.
Question time on Tuesday 17 September kicked off with Shadow Minister for Social Services Linda Burney, who asked the Prime Minister Scott Morrison to confirm why “every government budget” since 2014 has included pension reductions. “This wasn’t a plan for a one-off cut,” she said. “It was a cut every fortnight, every year.”
Labor Leader Anthony Albanese challenged Mr Morrison on the policy by asking why the government was cutting the pension. “Does the Prime Minister accept that a combination of deep cuts and the government’s deregulation obsession have left older Australians in care vulnerable to abuse and neglect?” he asked.
Addressing the proposed cuts, Labor’s Federal Member for Calwell Maria Vamvakinou asked, “Can the Prime Minister confirm how many pensioners will be negatively impacted by his legislation to cut the pension supplement?”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison poured cold water over the claim that there had been reductions, stating that pensions and all indexed payments had received “increases twice each year, in March and September.”
“This government makes sure that the welfare system is fair to those who rely on it and it is fair to those who pay for it,” Mr Morrison said.
Minister for Communications and Arts Paul Fletcher said that pensions are regularly indexed and that “under this government the amount of money that goes to pensions and those on the age pension has increased significantly”.
Manager of Opposition Business in the House of Representatives, Tony Burke said that more than 170,000 pensioners would face negative consequences should the bill that cuts supplements after six weeks abroad be introduced. Those affected would see their pensions cut by $100 (for couples) and $68 (for singles) per fortnight. The government hopes to save $154.4 million over four years if it applies the six-week rule.
This is just the latest round of cuts being pushed by the Liberals. Mr Morrison had tried to cut the energy supplement from 1.5 million pensioners when he was pensioner. Now, just four months since the last elections, there are already plans to revive a plan introduced by Paul Fletcher when he was Social Services Minister in 2017 that would see pension supplements cut after six weeks out the country.
A source from the Australian Department of Social Services told Neos Kosmos that the Age Pension will continue to be available to those eligible indefinitely while they travel or live overseas. On the other hand, the Pension Supplement is a single payment that is designed to assist income support recipients with the cost of living in Australia “which is why, pending legislative approval, the Government has proposed to remove access to the supplement if a recipient leaves Australia for more than six weeks.”
A department source said that cutting the supplement, combining the value of Telephone Allowance, Utilities Allowance, Pharmaceutical Allowance and the GST Supplement, is not expected to truly impact Greeks.
Reactions within the community
Shadow Minister for Multicultural Affairs and Federal Member for Scullin, Andrew Giles, had told Neos Kosmos that in meetings with the Greek community he was aware of a lot of people who go to Athens before going to their village. “It’s a long trip and generally people don’t just go for a holiday but for parental responsibilities or to visit family and friends. It is not an easy trip for people who are in their seventies and eighties and while they are overseas, they are not using Australian health services.”
Bill Papastergiadis, President of the Greek Community of Melbourne (GCM), believes that the changes will have adverse affect on Greek Australian pensioners’ right to global mobility. “They will be forced to deal with unnecessary bureaucracy if they decide to remain more than six weeks in another country. Subsequently many pensioners will re-evaluate their trip and this will impact of their family and cultural ties with the country of birth,” he said.
The GCM had played a pivotal role in the negotiation process of the previous agreement that had started in October 2018. He points out that pensioners abroad still need the supplements.
“Pensioners are still charged with the supply of electricity and gas when they are overseas. We further note that when pensioners are overseas, they did not burden the Medicare system,” Mr Papastergiadis said.
“These changes will unfairly and disproportionately affect Greek elderly citizens who most of them are post war migrants with limited language skills. They have significantly contributed to Australia; the majority them came to Australia, at a ready to work age, without burdening the Australian Government.”
Are you a pensioner affected by these proposed changes? Please contact us at Neos Kosmos by calling Mary Sinanidis on (03) 9482 4433 or sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org